A Simple Song: works by Bernstein, Copland, Mahler et al

Anne Sofie von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, Sharon Bezaly, et al (BIS)

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A Simple Song
Songs by Bernstein, Copland, Mahler, Ives, Strauss, Pärt, etc
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano); Bengt Forsberg (organ), Sharon Bezaly (flute), et al
BIS BIS-2327 (hybrid CD/SACD)
69:01 mins

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‘Sing God a simple song’, resolves the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, and then ‘Sing like you like to sing’. These seem to be the rubrics for Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter’s choice of programme for this disc, ranging from the Bernstein number, Copland and Ives by way of Mahler and Strauss to Poulenc, Messiaen and Arvo Pärt, and ending with an all-out rendition of ‘Climb ev’ry mountain’ from Richard Rodgers’s The Sound of Music. Von Otter’s generous personality is reflected in the way she puts over every item, with care for text and a honeyed sweetness of tone.

Her principal partner, joined by other instrumentalists as required, is Bengt Forsberg, usually her pianist but here playing the Marcussen organ of St Jacob’s in Stockholm, a church with a warm acoustic. This renders the piano accompaniments of songs by, for example, Strauss and Messiaen, and the orchestral parts of two Mahler symphonic movements, somewhat overbearing. I confess to feelings of relief on reaching pieces with accompaniments which are actually written for the organ – movements from the Requiems of Duruflé (with cello) and Frank Martin, and Liszt’s ‘Ave Maria III’ – and especially welcomed the contrast on arriving at the one track without organ, Pärt’s spare ‘Es sang vor langen Jahren’, for voice, violin and viola. This is clearly a very personal disc for Von Otter, recorded in the church where she gave one of her first public performances 37 years ago. Admirers of the singer will certainly want it; and, if you’re not such a fan but you’re intrigued by this summary of its contents, so might you…

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Anthony Burton